On Nov. 13, Westfield State University went into lockdown after three witnesses reported seeing a suspicious man who appeared to be wearing body armor and was carrying a bulky backpack on campus. Luckily, it turned out to be a false alarm. But my friend, texting me frantically from a locked-down classroom near where the suspect was seen, didn’t know that. For all she knew, her school was about to become the next location of a mass shooting.
Sitting in class, I was terrified. All of a sudden, everything I’d seen on TV felt real, and I felt helpless. But why did I feel so powerless? Because here in Massachusetts (and therefore at the University of Massachusetts), the state legislature has decided that our campus should be a “gun-free zone.” As a result, students have been stripped of their Second Amendment right.
UMass students are prohibited from having a firearm (or even a BB gun) anywhere on campus, even in their dorm room; violating this rule can result in a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to a year. But this misguided state law, which deprives individuals of their constitutional rights, misses the point: Trained individuals with permits should be allowed to have guns on campus, and even carry them on their person, because everyone—including students—has the right to self-defense.
A student living in the center of Amherst can carry a gun under Massachusetts law, but a student living in Southwest Residential Area can’t. Does that make sense?
Well, it makes sense if you believe that we can’t have any mass shootings if our campus is a gun-free zone. But that logic falters when you look at the Chattanooga military base shooting or the infamous Batman movie-theater shooting––both of which happened in places that banned firearms.
It’s not hard to see why. Anyone serious enough to carry out a mass shooting won’t be stopped by a campus policy, a “no guns allowed” sign or any other measure the Commonwealth rolls out. If anything, a gun-free zone becomes a ripe target for a would-be gunman. Dylann Roof, who carried out a mass shooting at an African-American church in South Carolina, originally thought about killing individuals at the College of Charleston, but is believed to have changed his mind because the college had armed guards. Gun bans on campus only disarm law-abiding students, which aren’t the people we need to worry about. With this legislation, they’re left helpless.
The ‘good guy with a gun’ argument takes a beating in the media. But ask yourself: In the case of a school shooting, wouldn’t you wish that one of your classmates, who is trained and authorized to carry a firearm, was allowed to exercise their Second Amendment right and protect you both?
The ‘good guy with a gun’ trope isn’t just a right-wing talking-point pushed by the National Rifle Association. In the recent First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the gunman’s rampage (in which he used a gun that he should not have been allowed to legally purchase) only ended when a neighbor grabbed his rifle and returned fire. In September, a Tennessee church shooting was stopped when an armed usher confronted the attacker. When a criminal opened fire on a crowd in Chicago last April, he was stopped by a nearby Uber driver who had a permit to carry. There are countless examples, and they all show what happens when people aren’t helpless.
Still, many are quick to criticize the idea of an armed campus, and believe that more guns will result in more violence. But frankly, that viewpoint is just detached from reality.
Only 16 states prohibit campus carry, and the rest either leave it up to individual schools to decide or allow it across the board. The University of Texas Austin has famously implemented concealed carry policies on campus, and so have many other colleges in the Lone Star state. Yet per “The Texas Tribune,” there’s been “no sharp increase in violence or intimidation,” and university administrators have described the year since the policy’s implementation as “quiet” and “uneventful.”
So why not bring campus carry to UMass? Current policies aren’t protecting anyone. If an individual chooses to come to this campus with the intention to harm people, no number of “gun-free zones” or “safe spaces” will protect us. But letting students carry just might.
Brad Polumbo is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected], or found on Twitter @Brad_Polumbo.